His Holiness next met with members of a group who call themselves NKT Survivors, people who have left the new religious movement the New Kadampa Tradition. One of several reasons for their discomfort has been the involvement of NKT members in spiteful demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama in cities across the world. The focus of these protests is a difference of opinion about a controversial spirit known as Dolgyal or Shugden. His Holiness began:
“I think you know the story of this spirit is nearly four hundred years old. At one time I too propitiated it. My Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who gave me ordination, had nothing to do with it, but my Junior Tutor, Trijang Rinpoche did practise it. Having some doubt about it, in the early 70s I asked some scholars to research the matter. We discovered that the issue dated back to the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who described Dolgyal as a perfidious spirit that had arisen as a result of distorted prayers.
“Later, during the time of the tutor of the 7th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Chokden, who also became Ganden Tripa, Throne-holder or leader of the Gelug tradition, several abbots propitiated this spirit and a shrine was built at Ganden Monastery. Ngawang Chokden, who was the first Reting Rinpoche, had this shrine demolished and restricted the propitiation. He stated that during the life of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition, a shrine even to his ‘birth deity’ was not allowed within the precincts of Ganden Monastery.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama with NKT Survivors during their meeting in Cambridge, UK on September 18, 2015. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL“Later still, the 13th Dalai Lama restricted practices concerning this spirit and wrote to Pabongka Rinpoche about it, saying that the way he related to it risked breaching his Buddhist refuge vows. I discovered that no Dalai Lama had any involvement with this spirit until I did. Perhaps if the 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas were to reappear now they’d send me back to Amdo!“Once I made a decision to stop the practice, I kept it to myself. Then Ganden Jangtse Monastery got in touch with me to say that they had been experiencing misfortunes and they had asked Trijang Rinpoche about it. He told them it was a result of displeasure on the part of their traditional protector Palden Lhamo. They asked me what to do about it. I conducted a ‘dough-ball divination’ asking first whether their problems were to do with Palden Lhamo’s displeasure. The answer was, “Yes”. Then I asked whether the displeasure was a result of their adopting a new protector and again the answer was “Yes”. I informed some senior Lamas from Ganden Monastery and asked them to decide what action to take.
“Gradually this advice became known. Inside Tibet some worshippers of Dolgyal said that the Dalai Lama was taking these steps because he was trying to favour the Nyingmas, so I had to explain things more publicly. Previously, even my Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who had nothing at all to do with this practice had been wary of my receiving Nyingma teachings because of Dolgyal’s reputation. Once I stopped propitiating it I gained personal religious freedom and was able to follow an ecumenical, non-sectarian approach to Buddhism like previous Dalai Lamas. I had confirmed this course of action through another divination before a renowned statue of Avalokiteshvara.
“As a consequence of all this, supporters of Dolgyal set themselves up as a group in Delhi. Then the murder of Gyen Lobsang Gyatso took place. The perpetrators, who had been identified by the Himachal Pradesh Police in their investigation, escaped back to Tibet, where they were welcomed by Chinese officials.
“When I explain about all this, I make clear that it’s my duty to do so. If people disagree and continue the practice, that’s their business. However, I’m concerned about their next lives. These demonstrators are angry with me. I try to cultivate the awakening mind of bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness, being angry with me won’t do them any good. When I see them, I feel a lot of concern for them.
“As Buddhists we should follow authentic teachings, such as those of the 17 Nalanda masters. Depending on spirits like this is a degeneration of the practice of the Dharma.
“Because of tantric tradition we tend to emphasise ‘Guru Yoga’ and following the Guru’s word. However, even the Buddha advised his followers to examine what he said, to investigate whether it made sense, rather than accepting it just at face value. Read more widely. Study the works of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti and Shantideva. Also read Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment’. Don’t worry about having made mistakes, the 14th Dalai Lama did too.
“Kelsang Gyatso’s commentary to Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ is good. Still, pay attention to the four reliances: depend not on the person, but on the teaching. Depend not on the words, but their meaning. Depend not on the provisional meaning, but the definitive meaning and finally depend not on a superficial understanding but on wisdom. Read books, gather your friends together and discuss what you’ve learned. Give each other confidence. I admire your courage. Believe in truth and the Buddha’s authentic teachings.“I know Kelsang Gyatso. He was not a Geshe, but a good scholar. When I was in Mussoorie he gave me a copy of Gungthang Rinpoche’s writings for which I was grateful to him. Lama Zopa invited him to teach in England, but later they quarrelled. I sent an official to try to mediate. In 1981, he came to Deer Park in Madison Wisconsin to receive the Kalachakra empowerment that I was giving at the request of his teacher Geshe Sopa. So although he has now taken against me, his own teacher, apparently he insists that his own students only follow him. You should continue to regard him with respect, even if you tell yourself that you are now trying to follow the authentic teachings of the Buddha and Je Tsongkhapa.”His Holiness told the group to feel happy and that he would remember them. He again told them not to worry if they feel they had made a mistake, they can remind themselves that he did too.
Perhaps my time in the New Kadampa Tradition was all a complete waste of time? Sometimes this question comes up, leading to a complex mix of thoughts and feelings within my mind. Sometimes that mix used to be too disturbing for me to cope with and I would shut all the turbulence down and distract myself toward something else. But now the turbulence has subsided and I can look at the question and its subsequent though-train more calmly and with more interest. In one sense, yes, my time in the New Kadampa Tradition was a waste of time to the degree that I consciously or subconsciously developed an over-reliance upon the NKT as being the organisation that would lead me to enlightenment. Ironically, the more I practised NKT Dharma the more I realised the truth of what Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was saying, albeit often only the lines, that only my own inner Spiritual Guide could lead me to enlightenment, that only the wisdom inside my own mind could liberate me from suffering. As Geshe-la himself says: “if you realise your own mind you will become a Buddha; do not look for Buddhahood elsewhere”. And only I can do the actual realising of my own mind; the responsibility is totally mine,a nd my reliance upon Geshe-la is a reliance only on sincerely meditating and contemplating upon the pointers he gives, pointers which I still have to understand within the terms of my own experience, using my own intuition, reasoning, interpretations, etc. In that sense, none of my time within the NKT was wasted, as just putting Geshe-la’s advice into practice gradually empowered me to take ever more responsibility for my own spiritual progress.
But the NKT, an organisation Geshe-la created, and sanctioned, is what it is: an organisation. And arguably, spirituality cannot be ‘organised’, and no organisation can develop a definitive way for a teacher’s, any teacher’s, guidance to be understood and followed, precisely because no organisation can take on the responsibility of an individual to work out his or her own ‘salvation’. Organisations inevitably develop their own dynamic, their own purposes and agendas, which eventually deviate either partially or wholly from the spiritual goals of the individuals who owe some degree of allegiance to the organisation, and then those individuals have to cope with varying degrees of cognitive dissonance as they struggle to combine their spiritual path with the often purely worldly demands of an organisation bent only upon perpetuating and promoting itself regardless of what damage it may do to the integrity of the teacher and the teachings the organisation ostensibly supports. Krishnamurti understood this only too well, and he had the courage to dissolve the very organisation that was set up to promote his teachings and to gather disciples for him. Just read his dissolution speech! Now that is integrity! Perhaps Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, for the sake of his own teachings and the wisdom they contain, should dissolve the NKT and just tell all his disciples to get on with practising the Dharma without being diverted by the need to satisfy the demands of any ‘Dharma organisation’? Now there’s a thought! Enough to make an NKT groupie choke on his breakfast muesli! Just as well a ‘heretic’ like me does not feel the need to apply for re-entry into the ranks of the ‘pure ones’…